The annual springtime tradition of prom is already a big deal – a crucial over-the-top social milestone for most high school students. Some students fuss over cummerbund choices, others fret about dinner plans – and some worry if their choice of a date will be met with acceptance, or conflict. The new musical The Prom opening on Broadway this fall follows the story of a lesbian student who just wants to take her girlfriend to prom in a small, close-minded town that won’t allow it – and the band of Broadway stars who try to make it happen. Musical theatre alumna Jerusha Cavazos ’14 first had a role on the show Atlanta on FX in April, performed in Jesus Christ Superstar in Chicago through May, and is now making her Broadway debut in The Prom surrounded by industry greats. Even with such a successful whirlwind year, she stopped by the Performing Arts Center to give new Musical Theatre students a masterclass and take a moment to reflect on her roles, her journey, and her own prom.
Congratulations on your Broadway debut! How does it feel to be getting ready to take the stage?
I have so many mixed emotions right now. I am so grateful and excited … literally bursting with joy. At the same time, I’m nervous and still in shock that I get to go on a journey that I’ve been dreaming about since I was 10. There are days I walk to the theatre and ring the stage door buzzer with tears in my eyes. I’ve walked past many Broadway stage doors dreaming of what it would be like to enter it as an artist performing on that stage. I get to do that now. It feels surreal and I’m trying to be present in every moment, taking it all in, with so much gratitude.
Tell us about the show and the role you’re playing?
The show is called The Prom. In a nutshell, it’s about acceptance and love. This story will have you laughing so hard you can’t breathe – and then, it will have you crying. It is moving, honest and relevant. I play one of the high school kids in the show, in the ensemble.
Are there any memories from your own prom that inspired you in this production?
In high school, prom was SUCH a big deal. Finding the perfect dress, the date, how you were going to arrive, the after-party, etc. I remember going to so many different dress stores with my mother. My best friend and I planned out a party bus to pick up all our friends, and we went all out. These memories really help me with my character … when I remember just how important prom was to me then, it’s easy to really tap into the brain of a high school teen who just wants to have the best senior year and make memories.
What’s the most exciting thing about being in a new, original Broadway production?
There are so many exiting things about being in a new Broadway show, it’s hard for me to choose just one! So, I’ll make a quick list:
- Meeting and working with the writing team – this is so rare, and it’s so special to be part of.
- Working with Casey Nicholaw and his team. I can’t express how amazing it is to watch this team work together. It’s pure magic!
- Recording the original cast album – a bucket list item for sure!
- Working with designers. Getting to look at costume sketches that were designed with me in mind is just out of this world. Trying on wigs that were made for me is amazing. The design team are incredibly talented people.
- And, there are also about 13 people making their Broadway debuts. This is so special. The energy backstage and on-stage is electric. The Broadway vets are so excited for us and I am thrilled that I am experiencing this life-changing moment with this group of people.
You recently had a part on FX’s Atlanta. How is being on the screen different than being on the stage?
I LOVED WORKING ON ATLANTA. Donald Glover is a genius and so generous, kind and very collaborative!
When I was shooting Atlanta, we would be on set for about 12 hours a day. The biggest difference is that in TV, you have to nail your action perfectly once, but you’re exhausted once the day is done because you’ve worked on scenes for 12-14 hours. Once you get the shot you can move on to the next. In theatre, you have to recreate those moments every night, eight times a week. This requires a discipline that is individual to each actor. How you maintain and balance energy, keep moments fresh and honest, preserve your voice and body, etc. is unique to each actor.
How did your time at UCF prepare you for your career as an actor?
I’m so grateful for my experience at UCF. I think that any program you enter as an actor becomes what you make of it. And I made the most out of my time at UCF. I took advantage of the many recourses that UCF has. I did independent studies with professors and worked on perfecting skill sets I knew I needed to make it. Here’s the great thing about UCF: if you really want it, the professors are there to help guide you to do so. You just have to show up.
Do you have any advice for someone pursuing an acting career?
Just do it! Don’t let anyone or anything deter you. My dad always told me, “If you feel you have something to say, say it; if not, get off the stage!” I’ve tried to live by that. It’s challenging because our business is so overwhelming at times and it can look impossible. But if you have any amount of talent and technique mixed with some good old-fashioned courage, you can make it. And it doesn’t matter where that happens. That’s the beauty of our business – there are many places where we can make that happen: New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville and Orlando. Just go out there and do it! Also, don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. What’s meant for you is yours and cannot be taken away.
“Broadway’s new musical comedy with issues,” The Prom begins previews October 23 and opens November 15 at Longacre Theatre in New York. Tickets, information and more at theprommusical.com.